- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

OPENING

• Becoming George Metro Sta—ge. Feminist writer George Sand comes out of retirement to confront a repressive government, a war and her new protege, Sarah Bernhardt. Opens Wednesday4/19/548-9044.

• A Bright Room Called Day — Rorschach Theatre. Tony Kushner’s first published play follows a group of artists and activists who watch their country become the Third Reich. Opens Sunday at Calvary Methodist Church. 202/452-5538.

• The Canterbury Tales — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Chaucer’s tale of the Canterbury pilgrims and their storytelling competition. Opens Saturday. 202/467-4600.

• Manicures & Monuments — Journeymen Theater. A play chronicling the story of Janann, a volunteer in an Oklahoma nursing home and a retired Army nurse who attempts to keep both patients and nurses in line. Opens tomorrow at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/399-7993.

• Richard II — Washington Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare’s tale of the unfortunate king and his struggle with his power-hungry cousin Bolingbroke. 8 p.m. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808.

NOW PLAYING

• Anything Goes — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **1/2. For escapist froth, you can’t do better than Cole Porter’s 1934 toe-tapper, which is set on an ocean liner bound for London with a range of passengers bent on scotching the marriage of a pretty socialite who is betrothed to an uptight Englishman but in love with a Wall Street bounder. The songs are as chic and sunny as ever, and the show has some powerhouse performances. But the production values are rinky-dink, the set looks flat and unimaginative, the costumes seem to have been assembled piecemeal, and a sloppy chorus defeats the peppy choreography. You might be better off renewing your admiration for Cole Porter by renting a couple of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies. Through April 23. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hip Hop Anansi — Imagination Stage — ***. Adapted by Elsa Davis from the story “Anansi and His Sons,” this hip-hop version features a trickster spider named Anansi (Fred Michael Beam) who wants to win the “golden fly pie” more than anything but must rely on the talents of his children to claim the prize. It’s a hip-hop show to which you would feel comfortable taking the whole family. The b-boys and fly girls in this production are youthful and fresh-faced. No BET-style, hootchy-kootchy moves or even a wisp of gangsta violence. These are the mean streets of “Sesame Street.” Through tonight. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — **1/2 — Lainie Robertson’s stage show does not attempt a definitive biography of Billie Holiday but instead tries to capture the calamitous spirit of the Baltimore-born singer as she might have been in 1959, the year of her death at age 44 from years of hard drinking and heroin addiction. The place is a gin-soaked jazz club in Philadelphia where Lady Day (Lynn Sterling) is down on her luck but still wearing the signature gardenias in her hair and immaculate white evening finery. Miss Sterling neatly captures the flavor of Miss Holiday’s singing style, and the evening is melodic and frequently entertaining. Nevertheless, there’s a tawdriness about the play’s depiction of the legendary vocalist. They didn’t call Miss Holiday “Lady” for nothing, and making her a tramp does her an injustice. Through June 4. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — Studio Theatre — **. Jay Presson Allen’s adaptation of the Muriel Spark novel about a self-centered but charismatic Scottish boarding school teacher who tries to mold her students in her own image needs an actress who is more a force of nature than an everyday human being. As Jean Brodie, the cherished Sarah Marshall appears miscast, vacillating between eccentric largesse and a palpable feeling of discomfort, as if the character’s clothes don’t fit. With the central magnetism of the character gone, the play loses its focus and becomes a fragmented and slightly tawdry tale of an out-of-control teacher and her wayward pupils. Through Sunday at the Metheny Theatre. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Radio Golf — CenterStage — ***1/2. This final installment in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle depicting black life in the 20th century, finished before his death from liver cancer last October, looks at a social class rarely seen in Mr. Wilson’s plays — wealthy, upper-class blacks in Pittsburgh trying to get richer. In this case a couple of entrepreneurs want to raze the old neighborhood so they can build an urban development project that means big profits for these social climbers, one of whom gives golf tips over the radio. Mr. Wilson is in fine form, wielding words with virtuoso agility. The pervasive themes of racism and oppression are still powerfully present, but couched in humor. The play is laugh-out-loud funny. Through April 30 at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Sex Habits of American Women — Signature Theatre — **. There’s nothing too darn hot about this play, a tepid and bisected look at sexual mores in 1950 and 2004 sparked by playwright Julie Marie Myatt’s wish to poke fun at a 1951 handbook on the female libido and its author. He’s portrayed as a man so distracted by his work he doesn’t notice that his martini-swilling wife has taken a lover and his daughter is having lesbian stirrings. The performances are impeccable, but the play strikes false notes. It’s meant to be about hypocrisy and secrets, but the play is glib and soulless, jumping between the past and the present without providing any resonance. Like an unfulfilling partner, “Sex Habits” leaves you high and dry. Through May 7. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shenandoah — Ford’s Theatre — **1/2. This revival of the war-weary 1975 musical about the Civil War presents a pacifist stance within a patriotic American context, and the question it asks — about the necessity for all that killing and dying — is as appropriate as ever. The play centers on Charlie Anderson (Scott Bakula), a Lincolnesque widower from Virginia who is adamant about keeping his sons out of the Civil War — a war that by play’s end he cannot avoid. Director Jeff Calhoun’s production features striking staging and winning performances, especially by Mr. Bakula, who exhibits strong stage presence and an agreeable singing voice. At times the show feels flimsy and patched together, with interminable narrative passages and a windy first act. The music is catchy but insubstantial. Nevertheless, it is stunningly relevant to a battle-fatigued America. Through May 21. 202/397-SEAT. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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